But the most underrated aspect of the genre is the joy of a frightening adventure, of watching kids run and quip and flounder as monsters stalk them around a haunted house. It's perhaps as important as dead mums or bloody bathrooms. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a horror movie that tries to have fun.
Horror fan Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) and the hunk-with-a-car Ramon (Michael Garza)
It’s 1968 and the world on the brink of protest with Vietnam and the election of Richard Nixon. Stella is an isolated horror fan who writes her own scary stories in the town of Mill Valley. On Halloween night, she hits the town with her equally nerdy friends – the arrogant know-it-all, Auggie, and the shaggy-haired comic relief, Chuck – before crossing paths with the teenage hunk-with-a-car Ramon. Out of nowhere, they decide to enter a haunted house, finding a big book in which horror stories write themselves in blood… and become true.
Scary Stories, at first, likes to revel in its genre forebears. Stella acts like a guide – knowing all the traps, structures, and conventions of horror stories. All the usual tropes and archetypes wipe across the film: the cartoonish bullies in high-school jackets; the Stephen King-inspired town; the group of doomed teens haunted by whatever monster they’ve unwittingly released.
But writers Dan and Kevin Hageman, with a credit to modern horror maestro Guillermo del Toro, don’t litter the spectacle with tedious clichés. They delight in paying homage to the genre while making it accessible, almost a deconstructive effort, while providing some new and vivid scares.
Stella finds a book that writes its own stories in blood
Based on Alvin Schwartz’s controversial series of children’s books and Stephen Gammell’s disturbing illustrations within, the imagery won’t be new to many people. But for those unfamiliar with the source material, the monsters creep, crawl, and tangle around with vicious originality. There’s disfigured scarecrows, toeless zombies, and a maternal beast that slowly, inescapably walks to the victim.
Each encounter builds a searing pace, with director André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) avoiding quick and easy terrors. Their climaxes often dissatisfy, probably because the aim for a young adult audience prohibits anything too gruesome – but each ‘story’ vibrates with a thrilling unease.
Scary Stories has such fun because it’s not taking itself too seriously. In the film, the laughs often balance the scares, proving you don’t have to be psychologically tortured or traumatised to enjoy a good horror movie. It could be its own sub-genre: Horror Lite, fears for those who want to sleep at night.
|What||Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark review|
23 Aug 19 – 23 Aug 20, TIMES VARY
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
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